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The Pacific Games

Did you know that the Pacific Games are currently underway in the Solomon Islands.


This is the seventeenth time the games have been held, in a tradition that dates back to 1963.


Just like the Olympics and Commonwealth Games this event is held every four years (originally every three years) but it wasn’t until recently that both Australia and New Zealand have been permitted to take part, which is why you may not have heard of these games before, even if you’re a Kiwi of Aussie sports fan.


Originally called the South Pacific Games, they were established by the South Pacific Commission during a time of decolonisation. When the first games were held in Suva, Fiji in 1963 just one of the participants was an independent nation, Western Samoa (now Samoa), with all other participants still holding the status of dependents or overseas territories of other world powers such as Britain, France and the USA.

The Cook Islands team make a big entrance to the opening ceremony, 2023 [Source: Cook Islands News]

Just five teams have attended all 17 editions of the games and those are Fiji, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, Tonga and Vanuatu (originally known as New Hebrides); the first three noted as having hosted the games on three occasions each while the latter two are yet to host the games.


Today, 24 teams are participating in the games (the same number that has attended the previous two games and the highest since the establishment of the games), of which 14 are independent nations. Three of the teams represent the overseas territories of the USA and an additional three are overseas French territories. Norfolk Island is a territory of Australia while three other teams come from the self-governing territories of New Zealand.


Logo of the first Pacific Games held in Fiji, 1963 [Source: Pacific Games Council]

To limit the probable dominance of Australia and New Zealand, who have a financial and material advantage over the other pacific islands they have only been able to send teams since 2015 and they are limited in which sports competitors can enter. This helps to foster pacific competition, as other than Australia and New Zealand, just one other team hails from a nation with a population over one million – Papua New Guinea (10.3 million as of June 2022). Of the other 21 teams, just ten have a population of over 100,000 people with nine teams coming from locations with a population of under 20,000!


The most dominant pacific team throughout the history of the games is New Caledonia which has almost more than double the number of medals than the second-place ranked team, French Polynesia (Tahiti). As overseas territories of France both teams and individuals have access to the benefits of metropolitan France, whom they compete for at the Olympics, which is a factor in why they are able to dominate the Pacific games.


When it comes to a per-capita comparison on the all-time medal tally the teams that shine are the Northern Mariana Islands, Vanuatu, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia.


The Northern Mariana Islands have a population of just 47 thousand and to date have won 32 medals since they first attended the games in 1979, having only missed one edition of the games since then in 1983. The Marshall Island very much punch above their weight having attended just seven of the games, always with a small team (averaging about 10 competitors) they have however won 17 medals since they first attended in 1999.

Tasi Limtiaco of the Federated States of Micronesia pictured with the gold medal (centre), 2023 [Source: Pacific Games News Service]

At these current games Micronesia already have won three gold medals with swimmer Tasi Limtiaco claiming first place in the 50m male backstroke, 100m breaststroke male and 200m breaststroke male. He also claimed silver in the 400m individual medley male competition. These were Micronesia's first ever medals in swimming.


The sports competed in the games are those more popular in the pacific than necessarily around the world. The only sports to have been contested continuously since 1963 are athletics, tennis, basketball, boxing, table tennis, and indoor volleyball. One of the more interesting inclusions that made a nod to the local culture was underwater fishing which was competed between 1971-1975 and 1995-1999.


The opening ceremony of these current games was held on 19 November and one of the great features was the cultural performance permitted by each team as they entered the arena. For many teams this showcased a tribal dance or similar performance. Each was very unique in what was presented with my favourite being that of the Cook Islands (pictured above) which brought lots of fun and colour. I also thought Niue’s introduction was very sweet with 14-year old weightlifter Ramsi Edwards carrying the flag and performing a dance all by herself with most of her team not marching, she was front and centre. She finished fourth in the 87kg+ weightlifting event held on 24 November.

Ramsi Edwards carries the flag of Niue at the opening ceremony 2023 [Source: ABC News Pacific]

The Pacific Games conclude this coming weekend with a big week of sport still to come! The next games will be held in Tahiti in 2027.

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Team Attendance at the Pacific Games 1963-2023

*Table is as accurate as records available allow. The pale squares denote the host nation.


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For More On the 2023 Games Visit the Official Website: https://www.sol2023.com.sb/

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